Challenging Expectations: How Optical Is Being Re-Invented at the VM Global Leadership Summit

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NEW YORK—Nearly 400 executives from the ECP, retail, insurance, product and lab arenas attended Vision Monday's 7th annual Global Leadership Summit here on Wednesday. The daylong event at The New York Times Center featured a comprehensive program emphasizing creativity and invention and shone the spotlight on a range of ideas, trends and developments poised to impact the optical business.

In keeping with his tradition of surprising the audience at the start of Vision Monday's Global Leadership Summit, Jobson Medical Information CEO Marc Ferrara walked out onto the stage at the seventh annual event wearing a casual outfit of black jeans, an untucked shirt and black Converse sneakers. Stepping out in this unexpected departure from "business attire" to illustrate the Summit's theme of "Imagination-Invention, Succeeding in a Culture of Change," he invited the audience to "challenge the expectations that rule the day and set the boundaries of your business."

Preparing for the start of the Summit, Mike Ferrara, Adlens (l) and Jobson Information Services Group's Marc Ferrara.

Howard Purcell, Essilor of America, addressed the Summit audience about threats to independent optometry.


The Summit featured presentations by business and technology leaders, both inside and outside of the optical field, Ferrara said, "I want you to ask questions, go back to your office on Monday and ask questions. Is your fan base bored with your products and services? Who out there is going to change the game and its playing field? Believe me, it's happening."

Introducing the program, Marge Axelrad, SVP, editorial director, Jobson, noted "competition can come from anywhere; people are out to entrepreneurially change the world. Digital media affords us the ability to connect with different tiers. We do need to reinvent and embrace creativity about what we're doing. That's our goal today."

Fitting the Imagination-Invention theme, the premier sponsors of this year's event were Adlens and Essilor. Signature sponsors were Luxottica and VSP Global and Supporting Sponsors were Alcon, CareCredit, DAC Vision, and International Vision Expo.



Frank Moss, PhD, director of the New Media Medicine Group at the MIT Media Lab cited several examples of innovative inventions at MIT.

Tapping Creativity
Tapping Creativity, delved into what today's imaginists are working on to change society, commerce and invention. Frank Moss, PhD, director of the New Media Medicine Group at the MIT Media Lab observed, "The power of passion" played an important role at MIT, where students and faculty were encouraged to "invent and create." He outlined several groundbreaking inventions including robotic prosthesis for amputees, designed by a professor who had lost his legs in an ice climbing accident. Moss spoke about the end of "area disciplines" and said great innovations bring together different disciplines, making it possible for MIT to design an all-electric city car that folds up to save space.

Bruce Nussbaum, a professor at Parsons The New School for Design, tapped into his experience as a journalist at Business Week and author of the book "Creative Intelligence," encouraged the audience to explore their creativity known as CQ. "The present is driving us crazy and the future is unpredictable. Creativity is a source of anxiety for many and people will always choose the predictable over trying something new." He struck down several myths about creativity saying the process had to be social and cultivated. "Knowledge mining is key—prospect what you are good at and use that to reframe your view of things." Creativity will eventually follow, he said.

Eye2 Vision Technology to the Next Power
Andrew Karp, VM's group editor, lenses and technology, introduced the second session of the morning, which focused on the new electronic vision technology trend, which VM calls, "Eye2."

The session led off with Ami Dror, co-founder and chief strategy officer, XPand, a 3-D eyeglass company that is introducing products that have clinical applications. He discussed the company's newest product, Amblyz, prescription eyeglasses for treating amblyopia that use electronic shuttering technology derived from the company's 3-D glasses. "Kids don't have to look like pirates anymore," he said, referring to the traditional amblyopia treatment that requires children to wear a patch over one eye." Dror said XPand is developing other applications for the technology, including motion sickness electronic LCD glasses with an additional UV sun protection filter and the ability to strobe that it will introduce in May.

Speakers (L to R) Ami Dror, Xpand; Kevin Rankin, eSight Corp.; Keith Thompson, MD, DigitalVision Systems;
and Kip Fyfe, 4iiii Innovations Inc.


Kevin Rankin, president and CEO of eSight Corp., discussed electronic eyewear from a clinical perspective. He said there is a significant market for the electronic, web-enabled eyeglasses eSight has developed, which incorporate refractive lenses and are designed to help people with vision impairments see better. "We see electronic eyewear as part of the ecosystem of a connected world," said Rankin.

Keith Thompson, MD, the founder and CEO of DigitalVisionSystems, presented a new "virtual refraction" technology that is intended to replace the conventional phoropter. "The phoropter does not provide the patient with a 21st century experience," he said. Thompson said that his new refraction system uses real world images that are more patient-friendly. He said that "any type of progressive lens can be shown in real time," providing a method for matching patients with lenses based on their visual habits and wearing needs. "This lets eyecare professionals upsell patients to premium product features," he noted.

Kip Fyfe, CEO of 4iiii Innovations, presented Sportiiii, a wearable device that can be attached to any eyeglass frame that provides athletes with biometric data though an array of colored lights. "Athletes need real-time feedback," he said. "We provide them a set of information relevant to what they are doing."

Annemarie Hagan, president and GM of Wellpoint's Specialty Division expressed her "passion" for the health care industry.

The New Health Care Influencers
A session on health care trends featured session Annmarie Hagan, president and GM of Wellpoint's Specialty Division, covering dental, life, disability and vision who described Wellpoint's many roles, including its Anthem and Empire Blue Cross/Blue Shield and Georgia Life divisions as well as its recent acquisition of 1-800-CONTACTS, she painted a larger picture of how the corporation is reacting to the impending full implementation of the Affordable Care Act over the next 17 months.

With "30 million more lives covered, 60 million Americans without access to primary care, three weeks wait time for a non-emergency appointment," along with additional influences, she sees this as a "perfect storm" in health care. At the same time, consumers are demanding more access, both to practitioners as well as to information. "They don't want to report claims," but they want information on their smartphones and on social media, they want physicians to be more accessible, and they want their doctors to coach them about staying healthy, she said.

Hagan described ways in which Wellpoint is working to achieve this, including offering LiveHealthOnline for HIPAA-protected 24/7 access to primary care professionals and linking IBM's Watson, of Jeopardy fame, with "some of our hospitals" for diagnosis and treatment of patients.

Another "new health care influencer," David Golden, OD, founder of both PERC and the Eye Home Network, followed with an explanation of how he's taking steps to eliminate redundancies and improve efficiencies. Describing "the overall landscape of healthcare changing rapidly," he feels that an integrated eyewear model in which ophthalmologists and optometrists working together can create the best equipped practices for patient care. Seeing ODs as gatekeepers, he said that "the turf war between ophthalmologists and optometrists must go away. The real opportunity for eyecare is to increase the role that we have in primary care."

With over 100 million eye exams by optometrists in the U.S per year, Golden said that there are legislative changes happening across the country that may affect how they are performed. He even says that we will start to see a surge of opticians performing refractions.

Omni-Channel Marketing on the Rise
In Session Four, Omni-Channel Marketing on the Rise, speakers Martin Bispels, vice president of business development for QVC; Jay Engelmayer, vice president of GlassesUSA.com; and Francis Jean, OD, president and CEO of IRIS, Canada's largest vision care group, spoke about the blurring of boundaries between digital and traditional brick and mortar businesses and how mobile is transforming how consumers act and behave.

"We often get the question, 'Is QVC in marketing or sales?' Our answer is yes," said Bispels. "For all the people buying on QVC, more are watching, or visiting the website, to learn about a brand. We're passionate about customer service and our strategy and investment in technology and people is to build out the multiscreen platform model to reinvent the digital shopping experience." Buspels said that QVC is "actively exploring ideas in the Rx optical space" and is open to new ideas.

(L to R) Omni-Channel Marketing on the Rise speakers Jay Engelmayer, GlassesUSA.com; Martin Bispels, QVC;
and Francis Jean, OD, IRIS.



GlassesUSA.com's Englemayer added," We are an online marketing company, always have been, always will be, optical is just the industry we work in. Our goal is to become the largest most significant online retailer in the industry. The internet is not about finding deals cheaply, it's about convenience. Do not dismiss the medium, a good online strategy can change your business."

Lastly, Dr. Jean at IRIS took a different approach to Omni-Channel. "We think about 'How can we better use technology to better educate our customers and to expand our business?' We start with the customer experience and work back towards the technology. Technology is a tool to support our business model. Customers want to be educated so we've committed our website to education and transparency. The more customers know about us the more chances we have to sell them product and deliver them services."

Fast Company's Robert Safian closed out the day with his keynote speech.

Creativity and Innovation
To bring together the various topics of the day, keynote speaker Robert Safian, editor and managing director of Fast Company, addressed the crowd. "I'm going to encourage you to rethink your business model," said Safian. "It's easy for us to resist change, and it's harder for us to embrace it. I encourage you to embrace it."

The editor drew upon the eclectic approaches of Nike CEO Mark Parker, Foursquare founder Dennis Crowley, FX president John Landgraf and other notable business leaders to highlight a common thread throughout—their status as members of 'Generation Flux,' a term coined by Safian referring to a diverse group of business leaders who embrace the instability, and ambiguity, of today's business environment.

"Generation Flux means you thrive in an environment of change. No matter how the world changes, you adapt with it," said Safian. "We're living in a mobile, social, global, interconnected world. The old rules of business are out—and there are no new ones."

Safian expanded upon the concept with three key points: "take your ideas from everybody," or allow a shared platform of talents and capabilities; "redefine the corner office," meaning decision makers must be willing to integrate new ideas into the core, not the outskirts, of their business model; and "edit and amplify," implying companies should focus on their strengths and let go of dated approaches.

"Don't be nostalgic for what you did before simply because it's what you did before. Be conscious about why you're keeping your business model," Safian said. "Rethink, break patterns. Disrupt the industry."

Concluding the day, Marc Ferrara, still wearing his unexpectedly casual outfit, announced that because of the demand for attendance at Vision Monday's Global Leadership Summit, registration would open early for next year's event to be held March 26, 2014. And for next year, he told everyone to forget the business attire and "wear whatever you want."

The Summit was a sold-out event attracting nearly 400 attendees.